Bruce Fountain - Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist  

Bruce A. Fountain
101 Redlands Blvd
Suite 200
Redlands, CA 92373
(909) 792-9797

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Launching No Laughing Matter for Some Parents
and Adult Children


Recently, I watched the preview for a comedy movie about a grown man who was still living with his parents. It looked like a funny storyline. Unfortunately, the transition to adulthood can be full of disappointments. I frequently see parents who are in a lot of pain because their adult children refuse to grow up. Parents often feel resentful. Retirement plans may be put on hold and some couples split over this issue. Children lack confidence and feel ashamed but don't take responsibility for their situation.

Young adults face many overwhelming obstacles as they look toward the future. Rents are unaffordable for single, low-wage earners. Home ownership is even more difficult to obtain. The job market is extremely competitive. An advanced degree is required for most professional positions and high school graduation is questionable for those who haven't passed exit exams. Nonetheless, the transition to adulthood must be made. Adult children who refuse to grow up will fall by the wayside. There are plenty of these adult children hooked on drugs and filling our jails.

Ideally, the transition to adulthood will occur between the ages of 18 and 25. This includes time for college, trade school, graduate school or career building. Children and parents understandably hope independence will bring freedom and happiness. So why are so many adult children still living at home well into their late twenties? Why are parents putting their lives on hold to accommodate their adult children's needs. It is important to look at society's influence, personal responsibility and the family process to understand why.

Emancipation or the process of moving from dependent child to independent adult can be a challenging time for adult children. As mentioned, the reality of living independently is intimidating, financially and emotionally. Unfortunately, our society does not prepare children for this reality. The media machine promotes instant gratification. Although it obviously isn't easy to achieve, the "American Dream" along with millions of dollars, appears to be awarded quickly and easily to young musicians, actors and CEO's of corporations. TV and video games offer high stimulation for a very low level of output.

From a very early age this high stimulation low effort model is ingrained in children. We need to start preparing our children from an early age to see reality and learn to work for grades, money, and free time. Children must take age appropriate responsibility for their actions and the resulting consequences.

The launching process is the parents side of the coin. Parents hope to propel their children out of the home and into the real world. Some parents unknowingly sabotage or hinder the process because of their own unmet needs or fears. They may be keeping their children at home for their own comfort or companionship.

Often, parents wait too long to start the process of helping their children identify marketable skills and consider what it will cost to live comfortably. They also fall too easily for excuses and manipulation.

Parents need to encourage their children to take risks and not allow them to quit when things get hard. Children need to learn how to finish what they started. Children will fail many times until they learn to trust themselves. When parents overprotect their children, they convey the message that they believe their children are incompetent and therefore dependent.

Parents who give their children privileges without responsibility can just about count on having an adult child burrow in at home. Why would they want to leave?

Children need to hear from an early age that responsibility equals freedom, emotionally and financially. I tell teenagers they are adults in training because they are not young children any more and they are not yet adults. The habits they practice during this training period will be the habits they practice as adults. Parents must hold their children to a high standard of responsibility and model it.

Parents should encourage young children to plan ahead by engaging them in conversations about the future. Talk with excitement about the day they get to leave home. Ask them what they think a high quality life means. Ask them to start thinking about what kind of job they could see themselves going to every day. Everyone has a stake in how well the process goes. Better start early than wait until the last minute or you will be trying to reason with someone who is legally an adult but emotionally a child.

It's absolutely true that an eighth grader probably won't know what he will be doing for the rest of his life, but it is not too early to start looking for role models in a particular field. As they get older, help them find job shadowing opportunities where they can observe someone at work. Community colleges have career centers that are easy to access and will provide insight into the education or training that is required for a particular career. The newspaper is full of information on rent, home prices and wages.

Parents and children should start planning for adulthood early and expect ups and downs.

The sooner you start, even if you make mistakes, the quicker you and your child will find the solutions.


Bruce A. Fountain, MS is a licensed marriage and family therapist. He has a practice in Redlands, CA and can be reached at (909) 792-9797 or via e-mail at © 2006-2010